by Emma Gonzales
April 2008

Towering with strength, he smiled warmly as his big brown eyes would look down upon you. His short curly black hair would sit just right on top of his head, and he always had a pick in his hair as if to pretend he had a fro. Justin Davis, a class clown and a hero.  Upon greeting him, you would be squashed together by his two bulky arms; his big hands would pat you heavily on the head as if to remind you how small you were under his overwhelming height.  His grin made it hard for anyone to stay mad at him.  His dark skin shined since he lathered on lotion all the time; he explained — “smooth skin fo’ the ladies!”

Ever since middle school, he had been recognized as the loudest and funniest person known. He would boastfully make jokes if there were substitutes, “Why yo’ head so shiny? Looks like a big ol’ disco ball if you ask me! Rogaine can’t do miracles but try it anyways!” He would also quietly get under the teacher’s skin with continuous sounds, irritating even the students sitting in class: “Psssssstt….. HEEEEEEEYYYYY ……PSSSSSSTTT!!!”  At the end of the day, however, he managed to behave and give off his “I’m just an innocent boy” smile that made us all melt and forget his annoying habits.

He was the last person anyone would see as a well-accomplished young man due to his lack of taking anything seriously in elementary and middle school.  However, high school came around and there was a transformation in him that made him shine so brightly.  During freshman year, he was the original class clown, but he went away for the second semester, and not many people knew where he had gone. Summer dragged on without him, but sophomore year of high school – he was back!  He walked through the hallways with a touch of pride that no one could knock down.  His eyes sparkled as he stood proud in front of everyone at the lunch table announcing that he would be joining the army as soon as he turned eighteen.

His mom had sent him to an ROTC camp to set him straight since he was starting to go down the wrong path. His attitude and actions were getting too bold; snappy comebacks and a careless vibe was a big no-no for Mrs. Davis. Now that he was back, I sighed with relief and looked at the new and improved Justin. Well, the attitude was different as well as the actions, but his little comedian self was still alive. I looked at him and laughed, I remember it, the fat free chocolate milk almost spilled through my nostrils as I did a “I told you your mom would be the one to set you straight” kind of gesture.  “Yea, Yea, Yea…. Momma neva plays. She knew what she did was right,” he admitted.  He knew I was happy – he could tell through my ability to cut his arm’s circulation with my spastic hugs. It was good to have him back.

As a close friend of mine, and a well-sought out comedian, he always knew how to make a frown turn into a smile in the matter of seconds.  His goofy faces impersonated monkeys and even elephants -which I thought impossible to do. At times I would be having a bad day and he would pick up one of his “famous accents from around the world,” such as African or Canadian.  Never did he disrespect anyone, and not once did he let his friends down.  He was there for anyone, even strangers. If books were to stumble all over the place out of delicate hands, he would rush over to pick them up and return them to the rightful owner.

Justin and I grew closer and closer with our frequent McDonald’s runs, deep conversations on the side. He was my shield to many things; he looked out for me without me asking him to.  One day, we were walking down the hall going to class late and the principal stopped us. He was readily giving us detention when Justin blurted out, “Dr. Steinberg, I have you know that I had kidnapped Miss Emma over here because I am going through a HORRIBLE depression– I needed someone to talk to so she was here to listen to me–now you know that its NOT GOOD for depressed people to be alone! You wouldn’t want one of your students to feel like he was alone now do you Dr. Steinberg?!” The principal probably gave him the benefit of the doubt since he just chuckled and let us slip by.  We both looked at each other with a sigh of relief and as a “thank you,” I kissed his cheek, pointing my toes.

Senior year was over before we could blink, and we walked across the stage and got handed our diplomas.  Justin bade his farewells since he was being deployed to Iraq. He had accomplished his dream of being in the Army, but now his inspiration was to be a hero.  Little did he know that he was already my hero. I supported him with my undying love for him as my brother. I saw him before he left  and gave him the biggest hug I could ever give him. I was not happy but I did not want to pull his spirits down.

Months would come and go, and I would, every now and then, get cute little funky messages on MYSPACE from Justin saying, “Hey you! I’m in Iraq doing some serious business. Talk to you later. Much love.” He took pride in what he did, and I was so happy that he knew he could always write to me even if it was a very brief message.

What I loved the most were his phone calls. Usually at night, once a month, my phone would vibrate and ring simultaneously and I would pick up and hear a deep soothing voice. It was Justin. Static would, at times, ruin conversations but we always managed to get laughs, and there would even be belching contests here and there. That was true friendship. A couple of months later, however, I stopped hearing from him so much.

March came around, and I got a phone call. His voice sounded tired, a bit weak but still full of life. He told me about his adventures throughout the months. I remember telling him that I missed him–a lot. I remember being a bit pessimistic because all I wanted was for him to be home and safe.  He cut me off at times, “Aw, come on Emma, you know I’m alright….. Besides you have to remember I’m a professional ninja! Don’t tell me you are forgetting my oh-so-talented ways!?” I wearily chuckled, and forced the breath out of my mouth that I was not worrying–but I was desperately worried.  Static started to pick up after fifteen minutes or so, so I told him I loved him and that he was in my prayers.

Mid-June –  an eerie feeling overcame my skin, goose bumped with fear. Mrs. Davis was hysterical, blabbering staggered words I could not understand. Was it that it was three o’clock in the morning? Or her words drowning in what sounded like tears? Finally making out the sounds, the sounds that then turned into words with the words filling into sentences. Those sentences I would never want to hear. My heart dropped. It dropped with a heavy weight I could not pick up with any strength…

If I had known that that would be my last conversation, I would have not worried him with my stressful thoughts and needs.  My forced out encouragement and laughs would not be forced at all–quite the opposite. I would have stayed stronger for him. I would have sat there and told him that he did not need to prove himself a hero. It was not his placement in Iraq that made Justin my hero, it was him. His friendship and companionship as a brother. That was all, simple yet so complex with meaning.

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